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Food Safety Tips for your Holiday Turkey

Family in kitchen with Thanksgiving turkeyFollow these four food safety tips to take the guesswork out of preparing your holiday turkey.

1. Safely Thaw a Turkey

Thaw turkeys in the refrigerator, in a sink of cold water that is changed every 30 minutes, or in the microwave.

A frozen turkey is safe indefinitely, but a thawing turkey must defrost at a safe temperature. When the turkey is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, its temperature can creep into the danger zone between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria can grow rapidly.

2. Safely Handle a Turkey

Bacteria from raw poultry can contaminate anything that it touches. Thoroughly wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and family.

Take Care with Leftovers

  • Clostridium perfringens is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning.
    • Outbreaks occur most often in November and December.
    • Meat and poultry accounted for 92% of outbreaks with an identified single food source.
  • Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.1

3. Safely Stuff a Turkey

Cook stuffing in a casserole dish to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, and possibly cause food poisoning. Learn more about how to safely prepare stuffing.

4. Safely Cook a Turkey

Set the oven temperature to at least 325°. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the bird. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by using a food thermometer inserted into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures and how to use and calibrate a food thermometer for turkey and other foods.


  1. Epidemiology of Foodborne Disease Outbreaks Caused by Clostridium perfringens, United States, 1998-2010; Clostridium perfringens

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